While Youngstown government officials and residents have reason to feel good about recent news coverage that put the city in a positive light, a daytime armed robbery of a neighborhood grocery store near downtown is a reminder that there’s still a lot of work to be done.
First the uplifting. The city’s revitalization blueprint called Youngstown 2010, which has attracted country-wide attention and foreign press coverage, has become the foundation of a national study on how smaller industrial cities can be vibrant once more.
The study, “To Be Strong Again: Renewing the Promise of Smaller Industrial Cities,” was conducted by PolicyLink, based in Oakland, Calif. It was inspired by Youngstown, which officials of the national policy organization visited.
“The image of Youngstown is steel mills that are closed, nothing is going on and it’s a dying economy,” said Radhika Fox, the associate director who wrote the report. “But when I was there, I saw a lot of exciting work happening. We were inspired by what we saw in Youngstown.”
But it wasn’t only 2010, which provides the mayor and city council with a map for rebuilding the central business district, strengthening stable neighborhoods and creating green space in shrinking ones, that impressed PolicyLink.
The West End of downtown with the new high-technology campus, office buildings housing state agencies and The DeYor Center for the Performing Arts, along with the adjoining Overture restaurant, are an illustration of what can happen when the private and public sectors join forces for the common good.
The second positive piece of news about Youngstown came from the police department, which reported that overall crime in the city dropped 13 percent for the first half of the year, compared with the same period in 2007.
Police Chief Jimmy Hughes attributed the decline to the community policing campaign that has his department working in partnership with the community. State and federal law enforcement agencies also are participating, along with the sheriff’s department.
But while the police statistics show an overall drop in crime, homicides remain a blot on Youngstown’s reputation. There were 17 killings between January and June, compared with 15 in the first six months of last year.
Motor vehicle thefts also recorded an increase — 7 percent over the same period last year.
Mayor Jay Williams has acknowledged that homicides remain a major problem and contribute to the opinion of suburbanites that Youngstown is an unsafe city.
In that regard, a brazen robbery Friday afternoon in the J D Supermarket on Belmont Avenue is evidence that gun-toting criminals are not dissuaded by the zero-tolerance policy in effect this summer.
The robber walked a block or so carrying his rifle by the side, entered the store with a mask on while there were people inside and outside and took nearly $300 in cash from the grocery store and Ohio lottery cash registers.
No one attempted to stop him and he fired shots inside the store; fragments of floor tile and bullet casings struck the store clerk.
The robber then walked out of the store and made his way to the getaway car. Two city street department employees saw him getting into the vehicle, which contained two other people.
The car was subsequently abandoned and is now in the custody of the police department.
It is not the first time the store has been robbed. Indeed, other such neighborhood businesses are frequent targets of criminals.
Ironically, such establishments have become the lifeblood of inner city residents who have no means of getting to the larger supermarkets.